Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Reader's Choice Post of 2013 #4

I think this post is such an encouraging reminder of how God can use anyone and anything because it is really His power and action taking place.  Maybe that is why this post is the fourth most read post written in 2013.  I know I have had times where I've really needed this reminder of God's power working in the most unlikely.  It encourages me when I feel inadequate for the task in front of me.

A Horn, A Torch, and A Jar

A few years ago, my mother and father-in-law were given the opportunity to go to Israel.  They were completely amazed at the things they experienced and saw and of course, they came back with gifts for the family.  One of the gifts they gave my son was a ram's horn (or shofar).  It was fun watching everyone trying to get a sound out; some were more successful than others.  When played correctly, the ram's horn can be very loud and heard from a great distance.  It was used on holidays and important events and was also used as a call to arms.  Some scholars also say that it was a reminder of Abraham's trust in God when he was told to sacrifice Isaac; God substituted a ram instead.  The shofar played a huge role in how God used Gideon to defeat the Midianites.  That's not exactly what you would expect for a weapon, is it?  Please use the link and read Judges 7:15-25.

In Gideon's story, we get to see how God transformed Gideon from a struggling person who claimed to be the weakest of the weak to a mighty warrior that was willing to make his first attack on the Midianites with a horn, a torch, and a jar.  Think of that - all within a few days!  He quietly assembled 300 men around the enemy camp and they all blew their horns and broke their jars at the same time.  Just knowing how loud one ram's horn can be, I'm sure hearing 300 blasting at the same time must have been an amazing sound!  Then add the sound of 300 clay jars shattering at the same time.  Think of how disorienting it would have been to wake up to that sound in the middle of the night.  Then think of coming out of your tent and seeing all the blazing torches surrounding the camp.  Even with all of that, what happened next can only be explained as a tremendous show of God's power.  The Midianites began attacking and killing each other!

When God has called us to something that seems so much greater than ourselves, one thing we can count on is His incredible resourcefulness.  God can take the most unlikely things and use them for His purposes.  No one would have ever imagined Gideon to be a great warrior and leader.  No one would have imagined shaking the army down to only 300 men.  No one would have imagined using the enemy to speak encouragement into Gideon.  And no one would have imagined that the most powerful weapons used in battle were a horn, a torch, and a jar.  But it doesn't matter if it fits with our understanding of how things work because it fits with God's understanding.  God tells us in Isaiah 55:8-9 (NIV), "'For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,' declares the Lord.  'As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.'"

Are you willing to trust God's ways - even if it goes outside of our conventional thinking?

Monday, December 30, 2013

Reader's Choice Post 2013 #3

This week, I am continuing to go through some of the top read posts written in 2013.  This is a post that I know every one of us can relate to because we are either dealing with something that doesn't make sense or we know someone who is.  Perhaps that's why it is the third most read post written in 2013.  I guess with Christmas so fresh in our memories, this is a good post to read and reflect on how God's plan didn't make sense at times.  Why would He send Jesus as a baby to grow and die on the cross.  Imagine how that had to be so confusing for those who didn't have the hindsight that we have - they lived through all those events!

Things don't Always Make Sense

I know people who are going through things that just don't make sense.  I've gone through situations that don't make sense.  And I'm sure you can say the same.  I know a few people who have amazing faith that are struggling through a recurrence of cancer and have gone through two or three years of treatment and the cancer is still there.  I know people who have been treated unfairly in their workplace.  I know very gifted people who are struggling to find a job.  I've prayed for children struggling with a chronic illness.  There are things in life that absolutely do not make sense and we know without a doubt that God could take it all away, but for reasons we just don't understand He doesn't take it all away.  The verses I am looking at today have made me think about the things in life that don't make sense.  This is because Jesus' death just doesn't make any sense at all from our human perspective - especially if we are only looking at His death.  Please use the link and read Matthew 27:27-56.

Crucifixion was one of the Roman Empire's form of torture and death for criminals.  In these verses we see that Jesus also experienced terrible beatings and mocking before hand.  If only those people knew who He really was!  At any one of those moments, Jesus could have saved Himself from this unfair and horrific treatment; however, He didn't.  That just doesn't make sense on the surface - He is God, why did He do this?  Even on the cross, He continued to suffer and people continued to mock Him, yet He didn't stop it.  He even suffered the anguish of being separated from God, yet He stayed on the cross.  God could have stopped all these events, in fact He could have prevented all these events, but He didn't.  Leaving the story where I left it today would leave us all confused and wondering how such awful things could happen.  But we get to see the end of the story, which is the fact that Jesus rose from the dead three days later.

We understand that all this happened so that we would no longer have to be separated from God.  Jesus didn't stop any of it from happening because He loves us.  God didn't rescue Him, because His plan and victory would be all the greater when He let Jesus die.  But remember that all of those people who followed Jesus didn't understand all this and lived through the confusion and pain.  This didn't make sense!

James 1:2-4 (NLT) says, "Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy.  For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow.  So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing."  When we are going through difficulties or even things that we would consider horrific and God just doesn't seem to be taking you out of that situation, it is really hard to have the perspective of considering it an opportunity for great joy.  But I think we need to remember that it is an opportunity for joy - meaning we can know that great joy will be coming in the end.  That can be the very thing that we can hang our hope on - we know that joy will be coming.  We may not know when the end will happen, but our joy will come.  When we believe in the hope of the victory Jesus shares with us, we can endure.

Are things just not making sense right now?  Do you trust that God has bigger plans for you?  Can you place your hope in Jesus' victory to help you endure?

Friday, December 27, 2013

Reader's Choice of 2013 #2

As I continue to finish up the year with the top read posts of 2013, I have to admit I was surprised that this post was the second most read post written in 2013.  This is because it is a post that reminds us that our faith is more than just knowing what we believe, it is doing what we believe.  With that said, please enjoy the second most read post written in 2013:

Live It Out

A few days ago, I mentioned how there are certain things in life that we must do ourselves - no one else can do it for us.  I used the example of playing an instrument; we can either play it or we cannot, no one can play it for us.  The other day, we were having a discussion at the table I made the comment, "I understand how football is played, but I can't play football."  That statement is truer than you realize; I was not born with gross motor coordination.  I can have a complete understanding of how something works, but in the end it takes more than understanding, it takes action.  The parables I have been looking at this week addresses the kingdom of heaven, and the parable I am looking at today addresses the idea of knowing and doing.  Please click the link and read Matthew 25:31-46.

I think these are very difficult and challenging verses to read because they probably convict every heart that reads them.  When you look around and see so much need in this world, you cannot help but be convicted from these verses.  But something that is even more convicting is the idea that the salvation we receive through Jesus is something that should be mobilizing us into action.  He is showing us that our belief in Him is important and is what gives us our salvation, but He is also showing us that there is a responsibility that comes with being a part of His family.  If we believe Him and make every effort to understand His heart, we will see that our relationship with Him should be shining through the good things He has called us to do.

How do we get started in knowing what we are do?  When we spend time in the Bible every day, we read about the things that God feels is important to His heart.  When we pray, we can ask God to open our eyes to the things that we can do to show His love to the vulnerable.  I know I mention the Bible and prayer to the point that you probably roll your eyes over it, but there is no disputing this importance.  However, something that I do not mention nearly as much and is equally important is serving.  When we serve in our church and serve the vulnerable, God does an amazing work in our hearts and when we combine it with daily Bible reading and prayer the result is a vibrant faith.  I believe this is because we are doing what is important to God's heart, so we are growing more like Him every time we serve Him by serving others.  This is the difference between knowing about our faith and living it out.  As I wrote yesterday, this is why God has given us all that we have - we invest it back into His kingdom.  And the thing that we have to understand is that no one can live our faith out for us.

What are you doing to live out your faith?

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Reader's Choice Post of 2013

As I take a small break between now and 2014, I will be posting the top read posts of 2013.  Today's post is by far the most read post written in 2013.  I'm sure that the reason for this was because of the title I chose: "The Treasure Is Not In a Graveyard."  I didn't think my blog received enough traffic for that title to draw many visitors interested in a real treasure hunt happening out west.  But alas, I found out I was wrong and was surprised to see more traffic than usual on my blog that day!  The awesome thing about this being the top read post is that I really liked this post.  This is because our true treasure really isn't in a graveyard.  Jesus is alive and conquered the grave!  With that small introduction in mind, here is the top read post written in 2013.

The Treasure Is Not In A Graveyard

There is a treasure hunt happening somewhere in western United States.  The man who hid the treasure has been putting out clues on occasion to help people hunt for the treasure.  This morning, he was on the Today Show to reveal a new clue to the location of the treasure.  So, as many people sat on the edge of their seats and tuned in to hear the clue, he simply said, "The treasure is not in a graveyard."  I can't help but wonder what the reaction was to the many people who have been spending time studying the clues and scouring the mountains to find the treasure.  Were they elated because it helped redirect them, or were they disappointed in the clue because it didn't seem to do anything for them except to tell them where not to look?  But I laughed when I heard the clue because it fit so perfectly with the verses I am looking at this morning!  Please use the link and read Matthew 23:25-28.

These verses are a part of an entire chapter where Jesus was giving warnings against the teachers of the law and the Pharisees.  In these words of Jesus, we see Him explaining a few reasons why He called them hypocrites.  Jesus used some interesting objects to explain the importance of having our hearts in the right place.  First, He used a housekeeping item: dish washing.  You have to admit, this is something we can all relate to.  Jesus explained that it was more important to have the inside of the dish clean rather than the outside.  After all, who wants to put the food we are going to eat in a dirty dish?  Who cares if the dish is clean on the outside, I'm more concerned that the part the food will be touching is clean!  Jesus points out that if we take the time to clean the inside, the outside will get cleaned.  When we focus on making our hearts right, we don't need to worry about appearances - all of those things will fall into place.

Then He used an analogy of a white-washed tomb.  He explained that how the tomb looked on the outside didn't matter because the inside of the tomb was full of dead bones.  Jesus continued on to let us know that is what our hearts are like when we focus only on how righteous we appear rather than truly living righteousness.  It makes me think that when we focus only on appearances (looking holy) it is like hunting for heavenly treasures in a graveyard.  The problem with that is that God is the God of the living (Matthew 22:32) and He doesn't put His treasure in a graveyard.  If we are lingering in the graveyard, our hearts will reflect those dead bones.  But if we are treasure hunting in the Bible, which is alive and active (Hebrews 4:12), our hearts will be thriving and growing.  The treasure is not found in appearances, it is found in God.

Where are you treasure hunting?

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

What It Is All About

I don't know about you, but with all busyness of the season between Thanksgiving and Christmas it is so easy to get caught up and overwhelmed and lose focus.  There is some busyness that we don't have control over such as school concert schedules; however, we also create some of our own frenzy.  It is really easy to get trapped in the consumerism that we've made Christmas to be, which then creates more busyness because we have to carve out enough time to buy presents.  Then we have to find time to wrap presents...then time to open presents...visit family...bake cookies...and so on.  I've even justified some of it because most of what our kiddos receive for Christmas is what they need.  If their pajamas are getting worn out, they get new pajamas.  Growing out of jeans...we get them new jeans.  Of course, socks are always a guarantee.  I'm sure many of you can relate to what I am saying.  But then, the real reason we began celebrating Christmas gets lost - we celebrate Christmas because one evening a precious baby entered the world to eventually sacrifice Himself so we could all receive eternal life.  We just need to believe Him.

So, where did all the crazy frenzy and consumerism come from?  Every culture has its own thing that wants to pull us away from our focus on Christ and I believe that my culture has consumerism and time mismanagement as its main struggles.  Why don't I just replace their clothes right when they need to be replaced rather than waiting for Christmas?  Why wait until the holiday season to fulfill our baking fun?  Why do all the family visits have to happen around the holidays rather than throughout the year (yes...school schedules play some role for those of us who live far from any relatives)?  The more we create the perceived need for these traditions, the easier it is for the real reason we celebrate Christmas to get lost.

Many of us will be attending a Christmas Eve service tonight.  I challenge you to do all you can to clear your mind of the things that still need to be done before tomorrow in order to truly celebrate the reason we have life!  I know the verses I am about to ask you to read are verses you have probably read or heard so many times, but please pray that God gives you a fresh perspective on His love as you read them.  Ask God to reveal to you something new in these verses that you never noticed before.  Please use the link and read Luke 2:1-21.

Have a blessed Christmas and enjoy praising our wonderful Savior!

Monday, December 23, 2013

Blessed Is She Who Believes

There is nothing like a shared experience.  For example, my church has sent several teams to Zambia and there is a common bond among the people who have gone.  Even though they haven't been on the same team, they have been through a similar experience and share an understanding with each other.  You especially notice this when a team arrives home from Zambia and everyone else who has gone in the past want to come and talk to them about their trip.  And for the person just returning, it is so refreshing to be able to share their trip with someone who understands.  As I continue to look at the events leading up to Jesus' birth I want to look at the shared experience that Elizabeth and Mary had.  Please use the link and read Luke 1:39-56.

I think this scene is absolutely amazing.  First we see that Mary rushes over to visit her relative, Elizabeth who is also pregnant.  But this pregnancy is a miracle just like Mary's.  Being single and pregnant isn't easy and then add to that the miraculous conception that you know no one else will believe!  I think it was such a blessing that God made sure she knew of Elizabeth's miraculous pregnancy.  To me, it makes perfect sense that she would hurry to Elizabeth's home where she knows that she will be understood.  And she was right.  As soon as she entered Elizabeth's home, Elizabeth greeted her with an amazing prophecy.

This prophecy is something that is really sticking out at me this morning.  "Blessed is she who has believed that the Lord would fulfill His promises to her!"  (Luke 1:45, NIV).  What an amazing greeting!  And who would understand more than Elizabeth what a blessing it was that Mary believed; Zechariah was mute throughout Elizabeth's pregnancy because of his momentary lapse of belief.  The more I look at the story of Jesus' birth, the more I see how God not only looked for people of faith, but He also honored and blessed those people as they exercised their faith.  Remember, Elizabeth also understood the importance of believing God because she and Zechariah were considered righteous by God.  We have been told in Hebrews 11 that it is our faith in God that makes us righteous in God's eyes.  So, Elizabeth's greeting was one that was full of wisdom and understanding by a woman of great faith.

Blessed is she who believes...that is something I want God to speak over me.  I want to have the kind of faith that He sees.  I want to have the kind of faith that pleases Him.  I want to have the kind of faith that brings Him glory.

Do you believe?

This post is linked with Sharing His Beauty.

Friday, December 20, 2013

May Your Word Be Fulfilled

Have you ever been asked to do something that you knew would be incredibly difficult.  In fact, you knew there would be difficulties, but you had no idea what they would be?  What was your reaction?  Did you say no?  Did you do it with complaining?  Or did you manage it well and did the task with peace?  I am continuing looking at the event leading up to Jesus' birth, and today's story has me looking at how Mary was told that she would be the mother of the Messiah.  Please use the link and read this portion of Jesus' story in Luke 1:26-38.

In these verses we see that Gabriel appeared to Mary and greeted her with a greeting that troubled her.  She was told that she highly favored.  I'm sure this troubled her because she was just a young lady who was just going through life.  She worshiped God, but she hadn't done anything spectacular.  But as we continue to look at what she was told and how she reacted, we can see why she was chosen to be the mother of Jesus.  Gabriel told Mary that her son would be the one they had been waiting for - the one who would restore the kingdom of God.  What was Mary's reaction?  She didn't say it was impossible!  She wondered how this would happen since she was a virgin.  Do you see that?  She believed what she was being told, but she just couldn't understand how it would happen.

I love that about her!  I would make assumptions of how God would do it instead of asking.  But Mary was smart enough to ask for more details.  Do you see why she was favored?  She believed and trusted God.  In fact, her trust was so great that her final response is one that humbles me.  She said, "May your word to me be fulfilled."  She didn't run away from this overwhelming word.  She seemed to understand that if God had it planned that she would be the mother of the Messiah that He would also make everything work out.  She trusted Him with the details!  This is challenging because I know when God asks me to do something new (nothing at the level of raising the Messiah!) that I worry about the details.  This is such an amazing reminder to trust God with the details and just follow His lead.  He knows what He is doing.

Do you trust God with the details?

Thursday, December 19, 2013

The Beginning of New Things

This Christmas season has been an especially busy season for our family and we are really looking forward to tomorrow being the last day of school.  We are looking forward to the weekend to relax a bit and spend some time together.  With that said, I am so thankful to have time in the morning to pray and read the Bible to remember what this season is supposed to be about.  Even though the busy things we are doing are so we can celebrate the birth of Jesus, it is too easy to lose that perspective in the midst of all the activities.  We may feel to busy to stop and spend time with God, but the reality is that the busier we get, the more desperately we need to spend time with God.  I have spent some time reading through what Jesus called Himself and then spent a couple days looking at prophecy and now I want to start looking at the events leading up to Jesus' birth.  I wanted to spend a little more time on prophecy and I would encourage you to do so...I had been battling a cold that was making me move slower than normal in the morning.  While I had time to read the Bible, I had no time to write a post.  You will be blessed by looking at the prophecies spoken about Jesus; I believe they will remind you of why He came to earth as a human.  Today, let's look at the story of Mary's Aunt and Uncle found in Luke 1:5-25.

I love the introduction we receive about who Zechariah and Elizabeth were; we are told that they were righteous in God's eyes.  In Hebrews 11, we learn that we become righteous in God's eyes when we have faith.  He wants us to believe Him - not just believe in Him, but believe what He says.  He wants us to trust Him fully and completely.  So we know that Zechariah and Elizabeth had faith in God.  I stress that because later in this story, we see that Gabriel made Zechariah mute because he didn't believe what he was told about having a son.  I think there is a difference from living a consistent life of faith and having a moment where God says something that seems crazy to us.  Zechariah is commended for being righteous which means he believed God; I think he had a momentary lapse because the news seemed impossible.  But with God, all things are possible.

Zechariah and Elizabeth were old and had settled to the fact that they probably were not going to have a child.  Have you been there?  Have you had such a strong desire in your heart and finally you let it go thinking that the opportunity was past and it will never happen.  I'm sure that was where Zechariah was with the thought of having a child.  Think about how astonishing the news must have been to hear that he was going to have a son after he had finally let go of that hope.  But, God didn't stop working in him just because of his momentary lapse; instead, God gave him even stronger evidence of His work.  God knows our heart and He knows our faith.  God wants to see consistent trust so when we have a moment struggling to believe what He tells us, He has something to work with.  Let's not beat ourselves up over the momentary struggles; instead, let's do what we can to strengthen our faith.  Let's ask God to give us more faith.  Let's spend time in prayer and in the Bible to strengthen the faith we already have.

How is your faith?

This post is linked with Thought Provoking Thursday.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

God With Us

Do you believe our God is with us?  Do you believe we were not put on this earth to fend for ourselves?  Do you believe that God cares for us?  I do!  I know that He gave us purpose and is with us every step of the way.  I couldn't possibly list in this post every reason why I know that God loves us and we are so precious to Him, but I can show one reason why I know this to be true.  There is a lot of prophecy about Jesus in the Old Testament and I am looking at what we are told about Jesus in Isaiah 7:14 (NLT).  "All right then, the Lord Himself will give you the sign. Look! The virgin will conceive a child! She will give birth to a son and will call him Immanuel (which means ‘God is with us’)."  God is with us!

God spoke the reality that He is with us through the prophecy about Jesus.  I know that was specifically spoken about Jesus walking this earth as a human; however, I also know what Jesus promised when He ascended into Heaven.  He promised us the Holy Spirit, which is also God.  He promised that we would be comforted, empowered, and gifted by the Holy Spirit.  While I cannot even imagine what it was like the night that our Savior was born as a human, I know that He did not come only to abandon us 33 years later.  He is still with us!

This Christmas, we have so much for which to give thanks!  God sent us our hope for eternal life, but He also sent us what we need to continue learning and growing in Him.  Remember as we celebrate the birth of Christ that we are celebrating the birth of life change.  We are celebrating that the promise of life is given to anyone who chooses to believe in Jesus.

Do you believe our God is with us?

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

No More Gloom

For most of my life I have lived near a great lake (I'll also put my plug in - vacationing along the West Michigan shore of Lake Michigan is worth it!).  Having such an incredible natural resource so close by is absolutely wonderful.  I live about 2 miles away from the Lake Erie shore in Western New York, so it is nice to see the beauty of the lake at any given time.  There is one draw-back for living in the great lakes region...a lot of clouds in the winter.  It is so gloomy in the winter!  We can go for weeks without seeing the sun because the cloud coverage is so thick.  I know that the clouds help keep the heat in, but it really gets hard when all you see is gray in the sky and old, dirty snow on the ground (that's what it looks like in February around here).  You know, there is also a gloom that invades our spiritual lives.  Watching the news, it can get overwhelming when we see how much we hurt each other.  Theft, murder, human trafficking, terrorism, school shootings, and so on just remind us of how much pain this world is in and it would be really easy to allow that to cloud our spiritual thinking.  But, there is prophecy about the Messiah (Jesus) who is like the sun breaking through the gloomy clouds.  He breaks through that spiritual gloom and shines amazing light in our lives.  Please use the link and read some prophecy about Jesus in Isaiah 9:1-7.

Around here, when we have a sunny day in the winter we all get excited.  It may be cold out there, but to see blue sky and sunshine in the middle of winter is a wonderful thing!  That is what I think of when I read Isaiah 9:2 (NIV): "The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned."  Verse 1 even tells us in the NIV that there will be no more gloom for those in distress.  I think that even the hope of the Messiah must have been like the sun peeking through the gloomy clouds.  The idea of this great light breaking through all this worldly pain makes me think of what John wrote in John 1:9,14 (NIV) "The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world...The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth."  

Did the light come with great trumpet blasts?  That is the crazy thing!  Our Messiah came as a poor, humble little baby.  A baby that was dependent on Mary and Joseph to meet His needs.  This amazing light entered the world not as a king but as a child.  He grew up among us and walked among us full of grace and truth.  This was foretold long before He was born!  To me, I see all the more how much He loves us to humble Himself in that way.  He is our true light and He breaks through the gloom and gives us the light of the great hope we have in Him.

Do you focus on the light of Jesus?

This post is linked with Soli Deo Gloria.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

The Good Shepherd

I have a friend who grew up raising sheep.  I remember she once explained that sheep recognize the voice of the one caring for them and will only respond to them.  In fact, if someone new comes and calls to the sheep using the same commands the sheep will not respond because they do not recognize their voice.  The sheep trust the person who cares for them and listen for their voice.  In the New Testament, Jesus described Himself as the good shepherd.  Please use the link and read John 10:1-18 to see what Jesus meant by that description.

There are a couple of things I want to draw out in these verses.  First, Jesus is our shepherd; He cares for us and protects us.  Jesus tells us in these verses that a good shepherd would face the enemy and be willing to die in order to protect his flock; no one else would be willing to do that.  Jesus cares so much for us that He died for us in order to keep the enemy from claiming us.  Instead of allowing the enemy to enter through the gate, He died and had victory over death and reclaimed His own life.  There is no one else that can do that!

That brings me to my next point; we can trust Him.  It is hard when the pressures around us feel suffocating to have the perspective that Jesus will not lead us into harm, but if we can remember all that Jesus did for us we can trust Him completely to where He is leading us.  Just think, the whole purpose of Him coming to earth was to ultimately sacrifice Himself in order to save us.  There is no greater love!  Why would He do all that just to hand us over to the enemy for destruction?

We can trust Him.
We can follow Him.

Do you trust our Good Shepherd?

This post is linked with Thought Provoking Thursday.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

The Vine

My husband and I had only been married three years when we moved into a house that was much bigger than what we needed.  We were renting the house; however, we were able to pick the cherries from the large sour cherry tree (they make the best cherry pie!) and we were told that we could plant a garden in the large yard.  The backyard had a slope and about halfway down the slope was an arbor where there had once been a grape vine.  We moved in the house in the spring and discovered that there was a little shoot coming out of the stump of the grape vine.  My husband had spent time that summer nurturing the shoot and watching it climb up the arbor.  He had visions of one day enjoying fresh grapes from our vine.  Those visions quickly disappeared when in one fateful second he accidentally put the weed whacker too close to the little vine.  One second and the vine was taken down.  He was so disappointed!  We currently live in a region where there are a lot of orchards and vineyards, so I have had the opportunity to see healthy vines.  These vines are not little shoots that are susceptible to a weed whacker (although I would advise keeping your weed whackers as far away from your grape vines as possible!), the vines are solid and stable.  As I celebrate Advent, I am looking at the various ways Jesus described Himself.  Today, I want to look at a few verses where He describes Himself as the vine.  Please read John 15:1-8.

Reading these verses, I certainly see how Jesus was showing us that He is our life source.  Without Him there is no purpose, there is no life, and we certainly will not bear the fruit that God wants in our lives.  We need to remain in Him in order to have the source of life it takes to bear fruit.  The fruit that Jesus was referring to is the fruit of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23).  As long as we remain in Jesus - this means purposefully choosing to follow Him - we will bear fruit.  What a beautiful gift we have in Jesus!

Are you staying on the vine?

Friday, December 6, 2013

Light of the World

I am very near-sighted, but now that I am in my 40's I am having trouble reading things too close.  It is kind of strange (and annoying) to not see anything far away, but also not to be able to see things close up.  Since I have astigmatism, I cannot correct the reading issue with cheap drug store reading glasses, the eye doctor has said the dreaded words: bifocals.  Yuck!  That will probably happen the next time I buy glasses.  The most annoying thing with my vision is that I really struggle at night.  I don't like to drive at night because the lights from other cars get a little blurry in my vision.  But, we need those car lights and street lights otherwise it would be too dangerous to drive at night.  I'd rather drive when it is light out when I don't have a problem.  True light is so much better than the artificial street and car lights.  We don't just see a portion of the road when it is lit up, in sunlight we see the road and everything around it.  Today, I want to look at another truth the Bible tells us about Jesus in relation to light:
Jesus spoke to the people once more and said, “I am the light of the world. If you follow me, you won’t have to walk in darkness, because you will have the light that leads to life.”  John 8:12 (NLT)
Jesus was referring to a light that was so much greater than the light we get from the sun.  This is a light that breaks through spiritual darkness.  Spiritual darkness - the darkness of the soul that makes one feel lost, wondering if there is a point to this life.  When we are stuck in that darkness, we cannot see clearly and we feel alone even when there are people around us.  When we are in darkness, we are wandering around bumping into people hurting others and ourselves.  We need light in order to live out the lives we were created to live.

Jesus is our light.  He is the One who gives us a spiritual vision and perspective to see there is a lot more on this road than wandering around.  This light leads us to eternal life and gives us purpose.  Suddenly we become aware that there is more to this life than just ourselves; we are aware that we are not alone.  We have a Creator who loves us and has plans for us to do good things.   This great and wonderful light came into our world full of darkness so we could see there is so much more to life on this earth.  We have a hope that surpasses anything!

Are you focusing on the light?

This post is linked with Faith Filled Friday.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

The Word

There are a lot of things in this world that I just do not understand.  How does an airplane fly?  How does the earth keep spinning?  How do birds instinctively understand when and where to migrate?  And so on...  I don't have to understand these things, but I see airplanes fly overhead every day.  The sun rises and falls each day with regularity.  Every Autumn and Spring, I see birds on their migratory paths.  Just because I don't understand how they work, doesn't mean that it isn't true.  Today, I am looking at another truth of who Jesus is: the Word made human.  I cannot understand how this happened; however, the validity of that truth doesn't rest on whether or not I understand.  I just have to believe in faith who Jesus is.  Please use the link and read John 1:1-5, 14.  You will need to keep scrolling down the page to read verse 14.

In these verses, we read an incredible description of Jesus.  He is God's Word made a human so we could experience Him so intimately.  But we are also given an understanding of how powerful God's Word is:  everything was created through Jesus and Jesus gave life to everything that was created.  That is amazing!  Once again, I don't have to understand how it worked, but if the Word created everything and gave life to everything, then I guess if He decided to be human He could.  Basically, what I learn from these verses is that there is nothing that can't be done by our amazing God.  And His awesome Word came to walk on this planet with us in order to sacrifice Himself to save us.  Do you see how outrageous that is?  The very One who created us and gave us life did the ultimate sacrifice to give us eternal life.  That was such a humble act of the most incredible love this world has ever seen.

Take time today to thank God for this amazing act of love - the Word made human.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Bread From Heaven

This fall, I have been blessed through a new Community Group that I am a part of.  Over the last four years of working at church with groups, I have seen many new groups start up.  It has been fun and refreshing to be a part of this new group and see how God put us together.  Last night, we were talking about the "Sword of the Spirit," which is the Word of God.  In our conversation, it made me think of how I hunger for His Word and how much joy God gives me by discovering new treasures in His Word.  I absolutely love my time with God while reading the Bible.  I love the truths that are in there that become more solid in my heart the more I read them.  The more we spend in the Bible, the more familiar we are with the Bible and the more it becomes our sword when we are facing trials and temptations.  So, this morning as I went on to Bible Gateway to look up what I was going to read today, the verse of the day caught my attention.  It was John 6:35, but I want to look at the verse this morning with a little more context.  Please use the link and read John 6:25-35.

Perhaps I am stepping out of the order I thought would make sense and I should have started with John 1:1, but these verses were really speaking to me.  In John 1, we are told that Jesus is the Word of God; everything was created through Him.  We are told that He is the Word who became human.  With that thought in mind, what do these verses in John 6 speak to you?  Earlier, I mentioned my hunger for His Word and in these verses Jesus tells us that He is the bread of life.  Knowing that Jesus is the Word and the bread of life, do you see how filling our hearts with the truths in the Bible is what sustains us?  The hunger and thirst Jesus was referring to in theses verses are much deeper than a physical hunger and thirst; this is a hunger that longs for truth and life.  Do I understand how Jesus is the Word of God made human?  No!  That is far beyond my ability to understand how God did that, but I believe it (I also don't understand how gravity works, but that doesn't mean it isn't working).  Reading Jesus' words explaining that He is the bread of life helps me see why we are sustained when we spend time reading the Bible.  Jesus reminds us in verse 29 we have to believe in Him.

The more I understand who Jesus is, the more overwhelmed I am by the incredible gift we have been given through Him!  Our God is so amazing and loving that He would bless us with His Word walking among us and explaining that it is through Him we are given life.  When we are filling our hearts with the Bible and believing, we are filling our hearts with Christ.  He is the One who satisfies our hunger and thirst.

Do you take in the true nourishment we receive from Jesus?

This post is linked with Soli Deo Gloria.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Advent 2013

In our house, we have five concerts done and four more to go this Christmas season.  There was also a marching band performance for the parade this past weekend and there is a Christmas production at church coming up.  Fill in the gaps with the regular evening activities, school musical rehearsals, and staff parties and the calendar is pretty full.  I know that so many other families have schedules that look like my family's schedule and it is also easy to see why our focus on why we celebrate Christmas gets lost.  It is interesting how so many of these extra activities have come about so we could celebrate Christmas together, but the end result has been a season of busyness that makes people stressed-out and tired.  In our home, the majority of our busyness is from school, so it isn't a schedule we can control completely.

My hope on my blog is to help us all get re-focused on Christmas and the amazing gift we have been given in Christ.  I pray that it isn't just a nice thought to have while reading the blog but that God will help us turn our eyes to Him even when our days are busy.  I pray that through our busyness, we will remember why we are busy - we celebrating the birth of our Savior.  I will be looking at three different topics - a reminder of who Jesus is, prophecy about Jesus, and the stories leading up to the birth of Jesus.  Today, I thought looking at who Jesus is would be a great start to this Advent season.  Please use the link and read Hebrews 1:1-4.

These verses are such a powerful description of who Jesus is.  There are some truths found in these verses that we can meditate on throughout our day:

  • God speaks to us through Jesus rather than only through prophets.
  • God has given Jesus everything.
  • Everything was created through Jesus.
  • Jesus radiates God's glory.
  • Jesus expresses the very character of God.
  • Jesus sustains everything.
  • Jesus cleansed us from our sins.
  • Jesus sits at the right hand of God - a place of honor.
  • Jesus is greater than the angels.
  • Jesus' name is greater than the angels' names.
That is a lot of truth packed in four verses!  Each point in and of itself shows us why we worship our incredible Savior.  Take time today to choose just one or two of these truths to thank God for the awesome gift we have in Jesus.

This post is linked with Sharing His Beauty.